Fischer Random World Championship

5/5/2005 – After introducing a chess clock that has gained universal acceptance, the reclusive former world champion Bobby Fischer in 1996 proposed a form of randomized chess that is designed to eliminate today's over-emphasis on openings preparation. In August there will be a first computer chess world championship in this variant.

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Fischer Random Chess

Fischer Random Chess (also called Chess960, Chess 960, Fischerandom chess, FR chess, or FullChess) is a variant of random chess defined by Bobby Fischer and introduced formally to the chess public on June 19, 1996, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Fischer's goal is to eliminate what he considers the complete dominance of openings preparation in chess today, and to replace it with creativity and talent.


Bobby Fischer playing Fischer Random against Susan Polgar in Budapest in 1993


You can see the shuffled starting position in the above picture

Fischer's goal is achieved by randomizing the position of the pieces behind the row of pawns in the initial position. It is different to earlier forms of random chess in the following points:

  • In the initial position the white king must be placed somewhere between the two white rooks. It cannot stand to the left or right of both rooks, which also means it cannot stand on a1 or h1. A random configuration with the king on b1 and rooks on a1 and c1 is okay.
  • The two bishops be placed on opposite-colored squares.
  • The configuration of the white and the black pieces are the same.

There are 960 different openings positions, and a number of ways of choosing one at random. The best is probably to use a computer program that will either randomize on the fly or select a position at random from a database of 960 random configurations. You can also use coins, dice or cards.

In Fischer Random Chess there are special castling rules, which essentially require that after castling the king and the rook are on the same squares as they would be after castling in a regular game of chess (i.e. on c1 and d1, or on g1 and f1). Castling can only occur under the following conditions:

  • The king and the castling room may not have move previously in the game (as in traditional chess)
  • The squares the king occupies, crosses and comes to rest on may not be attacked by an enemy piece (as in traditional chess). In other words: the king cannot be in check before, during or after castling.
  • All the squares between the king's initial and final squares and all of the squares between the rook's initial and final squares must be vacant. The king and rook cannot jump over other pieces, only over each other.

These castling rules lead to certain unusual consequences. Sometimes only one piece moves during castling, for instance if the king is on c1 or g1 in the initial position, or the rook on d1 or f1. And whereas normally one should move the king first during castling, if the rook is on a square the king will land on you must move the rook first.

The first Fischer Random Chess tourney was held in Yugoslavia in the spring of 1996, and was won by Grandmaster Peter Leko. In 2001, Leko became the first Fischer Random Chess world champion, defeating Grandmaster Michael Adams in an eight game match played as part of the Mainz Chess Classic. In addition, Leko has played Fischer Random Chess games with Fischer himself. In 2002 at Mainz, an open Fischer Random tournament with 131 players was held. It was won by Peter Svidler. At the 2003 Mainz Chess Classic, Svidler beat Leko in an eight game match by a score of 4.5-3.5 to win the title of Fischer Random World Championship.


Chess960 Computer World Championship

By Mark Vogelgesang

"In December 2004, when we came out with the announcement of the first Computer World Championship in Chess960, we were not sure how the community of chess programmers would react to it" recalls Eric van Reem. But already by January 2005, four weeks later, ten programmers had responded to the announcement and expressed their interest. Today, about 20 programmers have confirmed their participation. The event will therefore definitely go ahead; innovative and exciting computer chess is virtually guaranteed.

"The Computer World Championship for Chess960 plays an important role in our efforts to promote Chess960, as Chess960 needs powerful engines as tools for analysis" states Hans-Walter Schmitt, head of the Chess Tigers, a non-profit organisation devoted to the promotion of chess and Chess960, and also a driving force behind this event. "We are happy about the encouraging response we have received from the community of chess programmers and will work hard to organize a tournament that can live up to the standards which we have set in the FiNet and the Ordix Open."


Fischer Random Chess programmer Mark Uniacke

Eric van Reem talks about one of the highlights: one of the participants will be Mark Uniacke, author of the commercial chess engine Hiarcs. "From the beginning, Mark was enthusiastic about the idea of extending Hiarcs so that it can play Chess960. Hiarcs excels in positional play and will in my opinion be one of the favourites of the event, as it has always done well in Chess960 test tournaments." Eric knows Hiarcs and Mark Uniacke quite well. In 2003, he and the Chess Events Maastricht Foundation organized a match between Hiarcs and Super-GM Evgeny Bareev. The match ended in a 2:2 draw and gave Hiarcs another opportunity to display its strength in positional play. Even against such a strong positional player as Bareev, Hiarcs did not lose a single game.

Two other authors of chess programs with commercial applications are also participating: Gian-Carlo Pascutto from Belgium with his program Sjeng and the team behind Anaconda, Frank Schneider and Kai Skibbe. Does that mean that all amateur programmers will not have a chance to secure their share of the prize fund?

"We have taken the decision to divide the prize fund of the event in a way so that everybody has a chance to win his share; it is definitively not that the winner takes it all. We will divide the prize fund between the seven best programs" explains Eric van Reem.

Also joining the event is the team behind Spike, Ralf Schäfer and Volker Böhm, one of the surprises of the computer chess tournament recently held in Paderborn, Germany. Spike finished in fourth place, making it the most successful amateur program of the tournament.

But the honour of being the fastest programmer goes to somebody else: Anastasios Milikas from Greece. In March, the organizers got a message from Anastasios, not only confirming his participation, but also announcing that his engine AICE now supports Chess960 and is ready for download and testing.

Also joining is Richard Pijl from the Netherlands with his program The Baron. Richard will arrive early in Mainz, as he and his program will play a two game exhibition match against the reigning Chess960 World Champion Peter Svidler on August 10.

And many other programmers have decided to join the fight for the world title: Tord Romstad with Glaurung, Volker Annuss with Herrmann, Reinhard Scharnagl with Smirf, Tony van Roon-Werten with XiniX, Ralf Dörr with Nexus, Daniel Mehrmann with Homer, Tom Vijlbrief and Hans Secelle with Ant, Roland Pfister with Patzer, Fritz Reul with List, Jochen Peussner with Neurologic, Jaime Benito with Ayito, Eric Triki with E.T. Chess, Dimitry Morozov with Quazar, Thomas Meyer with Quark, and Stefan Knappe with Matador. All authors will be present in Mainz and will operate their programs personally.

With 20 programmers joining, the Chess960 Computer World Championship would be the most successful computer chess event in years: at last year's Computer Chess World Championship, held in August in Tel Aviv, 14 programmers joined, while the largest computer tournament in Germany, the IPCCC in Paderborn held in February 2005, featured 16 programs.

"During the last few years, I was present at every major computer chess tournament and I know that it has become more difficult to get a strong line-up. Maybe this event is just what the computer chess community has been waiting for and will raise interest in computer chess to a new level" says van Reem, chief editor for the Dutch publication "Computerschaak".

Maybe the attraction of the event stems from the fact that in Mainz, the name of the game will be "program against program" and not "opening book against opening book". The response from the community of chess programmers shows that just like human chess players, they perceive Chess960 as a new and exciting challenge. The author of the chess program Matador, Stefan Knappe, summed it up well when - after losing a game in Paderborn - he said: "my program is not weak, but I lose many games because my opening book is not good enough. The Chess960 World Championship in Mainz is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate how well my program can play."

It is not clear yet whether the organisers will be able to provide hardware on site for the participants. "We are talking with two companies about sponsoring our event, but we cannot confirm anything yet. We will continue to try to provide hardware on site, but as of today, we cannot say for sure whether it will be possible" explains Eric van Reem.


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